I’m guessing you’re here because you read and loved The Vanishing Half, Brit Bennett’s stunning sophomore novel about twin sisters who choose two very different life paths. It’s a wonder of a book that debuted at number one on The New York Times fiction bestseller list and only went up from there, earning a spot on almost every publication’s best books of 2020 list (including our own), plus a list from former president Barack Obama. But even if you haven’t yet read this buzz-worthy book, you’re sure to enjoy these moving, powerful books like The Vanishing Half.
The Vanishing Half is sweeping generational novel that follows identical twins Stella and Desiree, who grew up in a Louisiana town so small it isn’t even on the map. But after they run away from home as teenagers, their paths diverge. Desiree marries a man with dark skin against her mother’s wishes and eventually returns home with her young daughter. But Stella, after passing as white to get a job, realizes the power passing can give her and disappears to a new life in another town. As their lives grow farther apart, Desiree’s daughter seeks to find the aunt she never met.
There are many aspects of this book that may inspire you to add more books to your TBR. Generational sagas, complicated sister relationships, historical fiction about racial identity, and narratives around passing may all be a good fit for books like The Vanishing Half. In the list below, I provide a brief description of each book and the reason why it may appeal to readers of this bestselling novel.
Books Like The Vanishing Half
The Mothers by Brit Bennett
If you enjoyed Bennett’s sophomore novel, there’s a good chance you’ll love her debut novel The Mothers. Set in a Black community in California, The Mothers begins with three teenagers, a love triangle, and an unexpected pregnancy. It follows the three over the course of a decade, examining the power of secrets, community parenting, and the paths not taken. This novel is different from The Vanishing Half in many ways, but features Bennett’s beautiful writing and complex characters. The Mothers also explores how decisions made at a young age can have lasting implications.
Passing by Nella Larsen
Although not a recent title, Passing by prominent Harlem Renaissance author Nella Larsen is certainly a great pick to read after The Vanishing Half. First published in 1929, it tells the story of two biracial childhood friends whose carefully built lives are threatened when they meet again in 1920s New York. Irene and her physician husband are prominent figures in the affluent Black community of Harlem, while Clare is married to a white man and passing as white. When a chance encounter brings the two friends back together, they become fascinated with each other’s lives. That fascination threatens to upend both of their families. Set before the start of The Vanishing Half, Passing shows a different moment in history with a similar story about race, class, and community.
A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
If you love Brit Bennett’s books, you should definitely check out Margaret Wilkerson Sexton. A Kind of Freedom is a powerful multi-generational tale of racial disparity in the South. The story begins with Evelyn, a Creole woman in 1940s New Orleans who must choose between her position in the upper echelon of Black society and the working-class man she loves. Later, in the 1980s, we meet Evelyn’s daughter Jackie as she tries to hold her family together despite her husband’s drug addiction. In the 2010s, we meet Jackie’s son T.C. as he tries to reclaim his life after four months in prison for drug possession. The layered storytelling and generational perspectives are heartbreakingly perfect, telling a family story you won’t forget. Similarly to The Vanishing Half, it shows the long-term consequences of racism on one family in Louisiana.
The Revisioners by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton
Look, I just really want you to read Margaret Wilkerson Sexton’s books, okay? The Revisioners is another powerful tale of a Black family in Louisiana fighting for freedom and healing across multiple generations. After escaping enslavement as a child, Josephine built a life and legacy for herself and her family in 1925 Louisiana. But when a seemingly harmless white woman moves in next door, her life is upended. Almost 100 years later, Josephine’s descendent Ava is fighting for a better life for herself and her son. She decides to move in with her white grandmother so her son can attend a better school. But as her grandmother’s behavior becomes more erratic, Ava’s story begins to echo Josephine’s. If you loved The Vanishing Half’s focus on women’s relationships and generational legacy, you have to read The Revisioners.
A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende
In the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War, a pregnant widow and her husband’s brother are left grieving all that they’ve lost, and fearing all that is to come in World War II. After climbing through mountains into France and being placed in concentration camps, the two are offered a new life in Chile thanks to a ship chartered by poet Pablo Neruda. Throughout the rest of their lives, they try to escape the ghosts of their past and find somewhere that feels like home. A Long Petal of the Sea follows two people brought together by tragedy on a winding journey across the globe as they search for a safe place to thrive. Fans of the lifelong storytelling, complicated relationships, and emotional weight of The Vanishing Half will love A Long Petal of the Sea.
Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner
Sweeping and thoughtful, this is the tale of two sisters throughout their entire lives, starting in the 1950s. When we first meet them, Jo is the bookish tomboy of the family and Bethie is the feminine good girl who dreams of a traditional life. But as they grow, their paths change in unexpected ways that pull them farther and farther apart. It’s a story of family, sisterhood, and the way our relationships shape us. But it’s also a larger story of gender in America and the changing expectations of women in the home and the workplace. If you enjoyed reading about two sisters on separate paths through a changing political and social climate in The Vanishing Half, Mrs. Everything is the book for you.
The House of Deep Water by Jeni McFarland
The House of Deep Water is a haunting tale of the painful clash between the person you were, the person you are, and the person you want to be. Beth fought tooth and nail to escape her hometown of River Bend, Michigan, where she grew up in the town’s only black family. But when she returns with her two children to live with her father, her painful childhood and messy past relationships come back to haunt her. Similarly to The Vanishing Half, it explores a tangled web of family histories, motherhood, and the strange sensation of returning to a hometown you hoped to leave behind.
Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
Marisol grew up hearing stories from her beloved grandmother Elisa about the family’s escape from Cuba during the revolution. After Elisa’s death, Marisol travels to Cuba to scatter her ashes. While there, she discovers the beauty of her family’s home country, but also uncovers long-hidden family secrets. Told partially through Marisol’s contemporary perspective and partially through Elisa’s perspective in 1958 Cuba, it’s full of drama, history, and passion. If your favorite part of The Vanishing Half was the search for truth and reconnecting lost family members, you’re sure to enjoy Next Year in Havana — and its sequels!
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
News breaks that the bodies of over 40 boys have been excavated on the grounds of an old reformatory school in Florida. Remembering the horrible living conditions and cruel treatment he experienced at the school, a man in New York knows he must come forward to set the record straight. Set primarily in 1960s Tallahassee, The Nickel Boys follows two young boys who form a close friendship to help them survive a hellish reformatory school. It also explores what happens when the past you try desperately to leave behind refuses to be forgotten. Much like Stella in The Vanishing Half, Elwood Curtis is haunted by his own history, and when the truth can no longer be hidden, perhaps he can also find healing.
The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal
This big-hearted novel about sisters in the midwest is another story that proves family disputes can take generations to be resolved. Minnesotan sisters Edith and Helen never really understood each other, and as they grew older, they only grew farther apart. Edith focused on building a family while Helen’s love of beer inspired her to build the bestselling beer company in the state. But life can take you by surprise, and by the time they reach their 70s, the estranged sisters find themselves as competitors in the beer industry. If you are searching for a book about complicated sister dynamics and the lifelong journeys that bring them back together, The Lager Queen of Minnesota is the book for you.
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